Playing the “What if?” game with Jaromir Jagr’s career
Philadelphia Flyers winger Jaromir Jagr broke his tie with Joe Sakic for eighth place on the NHL’s all-time points scoring list, adding another bullet point to a no-brainer Hall of Fame career.
The Czech-born forward has played 1,327 regular season games in his NHL career and 169 more in the playoffs, so it’s hard to say that things could have gone any better.
Even with that in mind, there are three moments in his playing days that could have put his amazing run under the spotlight that much more. With that in mind, let’s play the “What if?” game with Jagr’s career - in chronological order.
1. What if he beat out Eric Lindros for the 1994-95 Hart Trophy?
Jagr narrowly lost two Hart Trophy races - both against good old Canadian boys with remarkably similar numbers. The first one came with Eric Lindros won his only league MVP in a strike-shortened 1994-95 season. With the help of hockey-reference.com, here are some quick numbers that show how close the two were.
Points: Jagr and Lindros tied with 70 (Jagr played in 48 games; Lindros played in 46)
Goals: Jagr was second in the NHL with 32 (Peter Bondra had 34) while Lindros had 29.
Point shares: Jagr barely edges Lindros 27.2-27.1 ... whatever that means.
Teammates: Ron Francis was the Penguins’ second leading scorer with 59 points; Mikael Renberg had 57 for Philly
Misc.: Jagr started the season at 22 years old; Lindros was 21. Even their teams were remarkably similar as the Penguins had 61 standings points and the Flyers had 60.
Seriously, Lindros and Jagr might as well have split the Hart that season.
Much like the Lindros-Jagr scenario, the Thornton-Jagr voting could have gone both ways, too.
Jumbo Joe lead the league in assists (a ridiculous 96) and edged Jagr in points (125-123), but some might factor into more-difficult-to-get goals into the argument (Jagr was second overall in the NHL with 54 to Thornton’s 29). You can consult the history-reference season summary to quibble over different things such as goals created, but the stats are all very close - again.
Context didn’t do much to distinguish the two, either. Sure, Thornton made Jonathan Cheechoo a mufti-millioniare and 56-goal scorer, but Jagr racked up those crazy numbers with linemates like Michael Nylander and Martin Straka in New York.
3. What if he didn’t go to the KHL?
OK, so maybe those Hart Trophy coin-flips don’t do it for you. The most intriguing hypothetical question is: where would Jagr be if he didn’t go to the KHL for three seasons?
There are so many variables - particularly wear and tear/burnout from not knowing what he’s missing in the NHL - but it’s still intriguing to wonder where he’d rank on the all-time lists if he played in those seasons. I’m not going to speculate on where he’d be, but just look at the point and goal marks that would be within his feasible grasp.
4. Ron Francis: 1,798
5. Marcel Dionne: 1,771
6. Steve Yzerman: 1,755
7. Mario Lemieux: 1,723
8. Jagr: 1,643
3. Brett Hull - 741
4. Dionne - 731
5. Phil Esposito - 717
6. Mike Gartner - 708
7. Mark Messier - 694
8. Yzerman - 692
9. Lemieux - 690
10. Luc Robitaille - 668
11. Jagr - 663
In the grand scheme of things, Jagr maximized his potential in his NHL career. Few players could dream of the money he made, games he managed to play and numbers he put up.
Still, it’s interesting to ponder how people would feel about his career if he had, say, three Hart Trophies and was in the top five in both points and goals, right?